This is a special story on this site, because it is about a destination never reached. When preparing my trip to Eritrea, I was especially attracted to an excursion to a monastery in the South of the country. According to my guide, I first had to reach Hamm from the southern town of Senafe in two hours, from where it would be less than an hour to reach the monastery. I started out in the morning expecting to be back in the evening. I should have been warned when some local school boys told me it was over 30 km, but I trusted the guide. I followed the road, took shortcuts where possible, walked alongside the edge of the highland, looking down hundreds of metres in the valleys, and truly enjoyed the spectacular landscape. After walking fast for about 4 hours, I reached the village of Serha. When asking about Hamm, a school boy who knew some English pointed to the horizon. I realised that I had to go back to Senafe by bus.
When asking around in that charming village, we were told that it would be a 2-3 hour walk from Serha. I concluded the guide must have mistaken something, and the next morning we went by bus to Serha, which appeared to be just on the border with Ethiopia. We were taken out of the bus, and the policemen pointed to a group of older people and a pregnant women who were on their way to Hamm. We just had to follow. We were walking pretty fast but it was impossible to keep up with the others. When we were still going down the cliffs of the higland, we saw them climbing on the other side of the valley. At one point, an armed soldier escorted us for an hour, until we reached his village. He pointed to the horizon, where we could discern some houses on a ridge, and said. Hamm. We realised that it was much more than a few hours walk, but continued nonetheless. For a short while, we followed a track which seemed passable for 4WDs, and then encountered a tall Slovak guy who assured us the monastery was just 2 hours from there. After a while, we were back on a small trail which was not at all obvious. After climbing another ridge, we thought we should see the evasive village of Hamm on the next one. However, nothing but rocks and scrubs. We decided that after 4 hours it was time for a short break and enjoyed the great views while drinking and eating something. And then, suddenly and completely unexpectedly, a small division of Indian peacekeeper troops showed up. They told us that the monastery was at least another two hours, and we calculated that we could make it only if we decided to stay overnight, which would mean missing out on other things.
The commander offered us transportation back to their camp, and before we realised it, we were walking back, in the middle of an armed UN patrol. When we reached the track we had walked before, to our amazement, one of the white UN landrovers was waiting for us, with a smiling blue turbant behind the steering wheel. The track was by no means easy for rugged cars, but the Indian showed he was a skilled driver on this kind of terrain. Once in the camp, we talked a little with the commander, when the door opened and a Sikh came in with a complete Indian lunch. What followed was a copious and tasty meal, in which we ate much more than we should have. Truth is, the food was delicious, and a welcome change from weeks of Eritrean fare. We were taken back to Serha, and were back in town before sunset. Thus ended the story of an expedition to a monastery that ended in an Indian UN camp!
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Hamm (Eritrea). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Hamm.
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